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Nuggets take on Booker, Ayton in home opener vs. Suns

Michael Malone has a contract extension, Nikola Jokic inked a max deal in the offseason and Paul Millsap is healthy.

Things seem to be trending well for the Denver Nuggets, so it's important to them to not squander opportunities when the only goal is reaching the playoffs in April.

So, not squandering opportunities means things such as winning their home opener Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns.

After finishing a game out of the postseason for two straight years getting there is tantamount to the progress of the organization. The Nuggets (1-0) took a big step in rallying to win their season opener, 107-98 at the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

The Suns (1-0) offer a challenge in that they have young talent in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, and they happen to play in Denver the night before the Golden State Warriors are in town. The Nuggets can't overlook a rebuilding Phoenix team in favor of the two-time defending NBA champions.

If Wednesday is any indication, Denver is focused. After the Clippers took an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter the Nuggets clamped down on defense and outscored Los Angeles 23-6 down the stretch. It was a change from last year when Denver would have to outscore teams to win some nights.

"We were really exciting last year, we were one of the most unselfish teams in the NBA every year, high-powered offense and we missed the playoffs because our defense wasn't where it needs to be," Malone, who signed a two-year contract extension, told reporters after Wednesday's game.

Despite the Suns being in a rebuilding year, they have enough pieces to steal some games. Booker, who missed the last 12 games of 2017-18 with a right hand injury that required offseason surgery, went off on the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday to lead Phoenix to a win. He scored 19 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, a performance that left teammates shaking their heads.

"Watching Book hit them threes, it was crazy," Ayton, the rookie 7-footer, said after the game. "Yeah. Booker hit a lot of threes. That was amazing.?

Booker will have a bigger challenge going against Denver's backcourt that is still missing Isaiah Thomas. Thomas, acquired in the offseason, is rehabbing a hip injury without a timetable for his return, but Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are playing well. Harris is one of the better two-way guards in the NBA, consistently guarding the best opposing guard.

The intriguing matchup will come down low, where Jokic, who signed a five-year, $148 million deal in the offseason, will battle Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft. Jokic can play inside and outside and has great court vision.

Ayton showed he can pass, too. He had 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against the Mavericks.

Ayton's talents are obvious but he adds an intangible in the locker room -- youthful exuberance. His infectious personality keeps things loose and teammates entertained.

"It gives an upbeat to the locker room," Suns guard Troy Daniels told The Arizona Republic. "You don't want to come in there bored like, damn, I got to come to work. He keeps things live in the locker room, which is fun. You want that."

Updated October 19, 2018

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